SASKATCHEWAN’S FIRST COLD WAR URANIUM MINE – by Dr. Laurie Schramm (Saskatchewan Research Council – September 18, 2018)

This blog post is based on the book, “The Nicholson Mine. Saskatchewan’s First Cold War Uranium Mine” co-written by Dr. Laurier Schramm and Patty Ogilvie-Evans.

In the early 1930s, prospectors discovered mineable deposits of Canadian uranium minerals in the Beaverlodge region near Lake Athabasca in northern Saskatchewan. Uranium wasn’t much more than a curiosity at that time, but it became instantly valuable when the 1939 discovery of nuclear fission and its massive energy-producing potential led to an international atomic energy race.

The worldwide search for uranium caused a resurgence in northern Canadian mineral exploration through the 1940s. In the early 1950s, many uranium mines were developed in northern Saskatchewan.

This era is rich in stories, involving a high-stakes treasure hunt in a remote, northern wilderness, and the secrecy, intrigue, and urgency of the Cold War, plus adventures and hardships of all kinds. Although there were many failures, a few remarkable successes were born out of a combination of hard work, good fortune, creativity, and dogged persistence. The results made Canada one of the world’s largest sources of uranium.

One such story is that of the Nicholson Mine, whose history began much earlier than the Cold War.


As part of his exploratory survey of the Lake Athabasca area in 1893, Joseph B. Tyrrell noted the occurrence of iron-rich hills and sediments in the Fish Hook Bay area. The small bay area that would eventually become known as “Nicholson” was first prospected and staked for iron in 1920. The original prospectors’ hopes for an iron mine were dashed by subsequent development work showing that the iron deposits were below commercial grade and not worth developing.

The area was not abandoned for long, however. John D. Nicholson had just retired from the Royal North West Mounted Police and become manager of Mineral Belt Locators Syndicate. Nicholson sent a crew to the site in 1929 to re-stake it. This time, they were looking for base metals. They found nickel, uranium, and copper minerals there between 1929 and 1930.

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